Global Search: Rich Opportunity or Risky Proposition?

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It’s a small world. The Internet makes it smaller still, creating the opportunity for marketers to reach their audiences regardless of geography. But what facilitates these borderless relationships around the globe?

Search.

According to comScore, there are 790 million searchers worldwide conducting 66 billion searches a month. Moreover, 76% of all searches happen outside of North America.

So does expanding your search initiatives beyond North America sound like a rich opportunity? Absolutely. Should you immediately invest the time, effort, and money to globalize your search marketing efforts? Not necessarily.

While global search marketing offers a way to reach more potential customers, it’s not for everyone. Why? Because the return it generates could be far less than you hoped for. Given that possibility, smart marketers should assess the opportunity with care, and take a close look at what global search marketing would really mean for their organizations.

Assess the Opportunity

One way to start this assessment is to define why you want to globalize your search efforts. Are you looking to “go global” because your competition has? Or because you just released a version of your product or service specific to a new geographic region? Or is it because your CEO wants to? Whatever the reason, data has a wonderful way of providing clarity. If you are considering launching search campaigns in global markets, thorough data analysis will help you make an informed decision.

After defining why you want to globalize, assess each of your target geographic markets for size, reach, and return. Sure, 76% of searches happen outside North America, but what percentages actually apply to the markets you’re considering? For example, if your target is Latin America, keep in mind that it only accounts for 8% of global searches. And what’s the size and reach of that market? While a market may have a gazillion people in it, how many are actually online? For instance, while China’s population is huge, its Internet penetration is quite low, at around 16%. Conversely, while the population of the Nordic region is relatively low, Internet penetration is high. As you assess your target markets, ask yourself – will the volume be enough to provide you with an adequate return?

Next, assess each market for feasibility. There’s not much point in pursuing global markets if you lack the capability to execute on the logistics involved. It’s important to have back-end operations in place to support your offering. For example, do you already have brick-and-mortar venues in place in these markets or will fulfillment resources need to be allocated? How will customer service be managed? And does your organization presently have the capacity to handle different currencies? If these operational elements for your target markets don’t already exist, what kind of resources will it take to put them in place?

SEO? Paid Search? Or Both?

Now let’s examine the opportunity within both the search engine optimization (SEO) and paid search advertising channels. What are the pros, the cons, and the potential returns for each channel in the markets that you are considering?

For the most part, global paid search initiatives require relatively little effort. After all, it doesn’t take much to get a paid search campaign up and running, even in global markets. Obviously, the biggest difference will be the language translation, including accounting for cultural nuances.

But what are the benefits of a global paid search campaign? First of all, cost. Bid prices for keywords are typically lower abroad, with the exception of the UK. Second, bidding in global markets will provide incremental growth once you’ve captured as much as you can of the inventory of searches performed in the US.

Next, consider the risks involved in global paid search initiatives, the biggest of which is fraud. Marketers need to realize that the risk of click fraud in markets outside North America is much higher than within. The laws in various countries obviously differ, and penalties range greatly. Individuals looking for a quick way to make a buck can join the content network and generate clicks to earn a revshare, with no real worry of getting caught if the law in this regard is lacking in the country involved.

But pros and cons aside, what kind of return can you expect from paid search efforts in global markets? The truth is that your return will not come close to what you generate in the US auction marketplace, as there simply isn’t the same volume. Despite this, global paid search offers an intriguing advantage – you can test a campaign quickly without much cost and effort, which helps you quantify the opportunity at hand. The results not only help to adjust expectations; they also provide insight into whether it would be worth it to invest additional resources.

What about global SEO? Obviously the effort and resources are considerable when compared to paid search advertising. The need to incorporate global standards across a variety of different language versions of your site is a large initiative. In addition, involving multiple IT departments and multiple webmasters to incorporate website changes can be a daunting challenge.

Ultimately, a global SEO initiative has a higher overhead than paid search and its returns are slower to develop. With that said, if you are committed to the market for the long-term, adopting a global SEO campaign could get you in early, and help you gain an advantage over your competitors as search volumes for your targeted keywords start to grow.

Keys to Global Success

If the goal of your global efforts is to target local market searchers, you’d be wise to first do a competitive assessment to understand who else is in the auction. Then you’ll need to find a way to appeal to your audience through a unique offer, a unique value proposition, etc. Doing so involves numerous steps.

First, you’ll need to generate a localized keyword list. It’s important that it reflects both what you are trying to convey, as well as the language actually used by your target audience. In addition, part of appealing to your audience is simply being found in the engines they search in locally. Given that, targeting local search engines is critical, as in some places, it’s not all about Google.  For example, in China, the search engine Baidu holds 58% marketshare, while Google has only 26%. Lastly, ad copy will need to be localized.

Clearly, accurate translation of your site’s content is key with global efforts, but keep in mind that it involves a lot more than just language. Many marketers make the mistake of thinking they just need to translate the text, but that’s only the half of it. To successfully reach your in-country market, you need to make adjustments for local culture, dialect, user behavior, idioms, “look and feel,” and user savvy. Your goal should be to translate the entire user experience, not just the words on the page. Having in-depth local market knowledge is key in the process.

The same holds true even if you are targeting English language sites outside of the US. Your users may share the same language, but there are many subtle cultural, linguistic, and behavioral differences that separate them. It’s incredibly important to identify these differences, and understand how each country’s users interact with the Web. Ideally, you want to optimize for correct search terms based on how users in each country speak, and both content and “look and feel” should speak to user nuances. Doing so will not only satisfy users, but will also help the engines understand that it’s not duplicate content.

ING Direct – one of the best-known brands in online banking in both the UK and the US – serves as a great example. They have a website specifically for UK visitors and another one for US visitors. While the sites have common branding identities, each speaks to their users in very different ways, including how the content is displayed. For example, the US site is clean, crisp, and simple. The UK site has more information and videos to support their message. Moreover, each site reflects its country’s language nuances when referring to products or services (e.g., re-mortgaging vs. refinancing).

Another key element to take into consideration is currency, and in particular, how it can affect your global paid search initiatives. Specifically, you need to monitor closely the strength or weakness of the US dollar compared to other currencies. Companies that are US-dollar-based need to consider the higher costs in other markets. For instance, while it can actually be cheaper to acquire customers in global markets with Google, Yahoo! requires that you bid in the country’s currency.

Clearly, globalizing your search efforts requires additional considerations. Chief among them should be how you measure success. While the metrics used for your current campaigns are still applicable, there’s one important difference – brand strength can vary a great deal in different parts of the world. Just because you can produce a certain number of conversions in one country doesn’t necessarily mean you can do the same where no one has ever heard of your brand. Don’t make the mistake of determining success by comparing markets. Instead, be sure to set unique goals around critical success metrics for each country.

So, is global search a rich opportunity or a risky proposition? It depends on your organization and your target geographic markets and the goals for each one. Overall, it definitely provides marketers with a way to reach more customers. However, it’s an opportunity that needs to be weighed carefully, as it will take considerable resources, and is not without risk.

About the Author

John Tawadros is COO of iProspect. John brings international technology service experience to the company, where he provides support to clients and ensures that the company continues to refine its SEM technology, tools, and processes. He is also responsible for new product development and iProspect's search engine partnerships.

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